Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 4)

Hotel Punta Leona Review – Stellar Price for an All-Inclusive

My wife and I are in the process of moving from just the two of us to a family of five. After literally years of waiting, we are now in Costa Rica adopting three beautiful kids. Our focus during these weeks in Costa Rica is on bonding with our kids. But this doesn’t mean we can’t take them on a few trips to see their own beautiful country. In other words, we’re taking a couple overnight trips while we’re here, and the first was to Hotel Punta Leona.

Our adoption coordinator set us up with a great rate at the hotel for a couple days midweek. Hotel Punta Leona was running a special, and we were able to book a room for $158 per night, all meals included. For a family of five, this is *amazing*.

Arriving at the Hotel Punta Leona

The Hotel Punta Leona is located on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. It is about an hour and a half drive from SJO airport, and a little bit further than that from San José itself. A good portion of the drive is on Costa Rica’s only real freeway, so it is a lot easier to access than many other places in the country.

The turn off to Hotel Punta Leona is a little north of Jacó. Once you turn off the highway, the road is dirt essentially until you arrive at the hotel property.

The facilities reception have a manned security gate. After explaining that we had a reservation, the guard let us through half a minute later. It’s not that Costa Rica isn’t safe. I’ve just noticed that many places have manned security or attendants, including parking lots and other places that would be totally mundane in the U.S.

Check-in went smoothly, except for the fact that the hotel was currently without a computerized reservation system. The front desk even had to use one of the ancient, manual sliding credit card machines. With my Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa card that doesn’t have a nicely embossed front. Didn’t work so well. She had to manually write the numbers and other info.

Selvamar Room…for the 5 of us!

The Selvamar rooms are located a distance from reception and the rest of the facilities, so we had to hop back into the car and drive a couple minutes.

I knew going into this that the room was going to be small. It didn’t disappoint.

It was a fairly standard hotel room with two full-size beds, a desk, TV, and in-room coffee.

The bathroom was adequate. Overall, it was a tight squeeze for all of us for two days. But it was a deal!

The Selvamar rooms are at least in a nice setting. There rooms are arranged in groups of 4 with walkways and gardens in between. At dusk there were monkeys to watch swinging and climbing through the foliage above.

And there were iguanas along the path at times. Even though our daughter is a native Costa Rican, they totally freak her out!

There was also a small pool close to the restaurant and Selvamar rooms. Given the much nicer facilities elsewhere, we never used it.

Hotel Punta Leona Restaurant – Carabelas

Included in our rate were all meals at the restaurant near the Selvamar Rooms. It was a quick two-minute walk away.

Everything at Carabela’s is buffet style. I’d rate the food as above average as far as buffets go. Most tasted super fresh. The beef at our first lunch was amazing. There was typically enough variety that anyone would be satisfied.

They had starters and a nice salad bar.

Every meal featured a chef at the grill or stovetop making part of the meal. The first evening it was churrasco.

Soup.

And other entrees and sides.

Soft drinks were self serve. You could also order beer or wine. A server kindly offered both evenings, but we declined.

In the mornings we had an immersive breakfast experience with the local wildlife. We were approached by both monkeys and a coatimundi.

I had a good laugh when a monkey stole some food from a guest on our first morning. I wasn’t laughing when the same thing happened to me the next day!

Hotel Punta Leona Facilities

The facilities of the Hotel Punta Leona are spread out over a fairly large area. The main highlight for the kids were, of course, the large pools.

hotel punta leona pool

Compared to the other hotel at which we are staying for the bulk of the time in Costa Rica, they were wondrously warm.

There is also an activity center with foosball and other games if you happen to be at the resort during a downpour. Fortunately, the rain that had been a fixture every afternoon let up for both days we were at the coast. On the other side of the pool there is another restaurant. Our all-inclusive rate included snacks here from 10:00 to 5:00. We enjoyed some pizza the first afternoon, and then a raccoon that got a bit too close for comfort.

I promised our six-year-old that I’d take him to mini-golf. On our second afternoon we got the chance. What wasn’t explained to me was that some of the activities cost extra, and this was one of them. I’d figured that most of the activities listed on the paper given to us at check-in were part of the resort package and included in the rate.

So, we ended up paying about $11 for three of us to play mini-golf. Which ended up being a hysterical experience. After trying for maybe a minute to instruct them (as best I can…I’m no golfer), I gave up. They ended up racing through the entire course is a matter of 15 minutes, often swatting the ball as hard as they could and sending into the grass beyond the hole or onto another section of the course. I was content to watch and laugh while proceeding through the course behind them.

This was the worst mini-golf hole ever.

Some of the other activities and facilties offered by the hotel include a butterfly house, a morning nature walk, pool volleyball, and bingo and karaoke in the evenings. We didn’t take advantage of any of these. Turns out that basically all kids want to do is swim.

Playa Mantas

The bulk of the fun was had at Playa Mantas over our stay. We went swimming there the afternoon we arrived and the following morning. The waves were super calm, and the water was heavenly. I’d never swam in water so warm.

Now I finally understand why people enjoy beach destinations so much. I might have to revise my list of places I want to visit to include some more beach destinations. Growing up on the north coast of California has left me with a poor view of “going to the beach”, where the outing typically means a cold breeze and sand flying in my eyes. I’ll pass.

In contrast, this was like a tiny sliver of heaven on earth. I’d enjoyed walking in the surf in Florida in May, but this was even better. I could have swam all day. Unfortunately, swimming ended up resulting in a little incident that cost us a bit of time and money.

Playa Blanca

The final morning we paid the other beach a quick visit. It is a bit further from the facilities of Punta Leona, but it is a whole lot more beautiful than Playa Mantas.

However, there were red flags out warning against swimming. Luckily, we weren’t there to swim, but simply to play in the sand for a while and enjoy the beautiful setting. Afterwards we headed back, ate breakfast at Carabelas once again, and then took off.

Conclusion

Overall, we had a good stay. Although it would have been nice to rent a larger room for the 5 of us, we really couldn’t beat the rate the hotel gave us for the single room under the September kids promotion. In contrast, I sent the hotel an email asking what the day-use rate would be per person. We realized that it isn’t all that far away from San José. I almost spit out my coffee this morning when they quoted me $85 per person over 6 years old!

DoubleTree Bend Oregon Review

Overall rating: 9/10

Location: Bend, Oregon

My wife and I headed through Bend, Oregon as part of a weekend away enjoying some time together before seeing the Great American Eclipse. Friday was an overnight in northern California after an imaging appointment, and then Sunday was our night in Clackamas before the eclipse (SEE: Travel hacking win: booking last minute eclipse travel).

We could have gone home for Saturday, but I figured it would be more fun to enjoy a drive through northeastern California. Plus, I found Hilton availability on Saturday and pounced on it. Only 40,000 Honors points for a $280 (pre-tax) room is a deal.

Arriving at the DoubleTree Bend, Oregon

The drive was both uneventful and enjoyable. We’d never been through northeastern California, and it was quite fun to see a new section of the state. I with the view wouldn’t have been lessened by smoke from the many forest fires, though.

We hit a bit of traffic near La Pine, and this made me stat considering how we were going to get to Portland the next day (SEE: Do I avoid eclipse traffic? Or just head through the thick of it?). Finally, we pulled up at the DoubleTree Bend, Oregon after over 8 hours of driving. I did the hoity-toity thing and parked in one of the exclusive Diamond member spots.

I’d booked a queen-queen room online, as it was the cheapest option available. The guy at the front desk confirmed that this is what we wanted, to which I said no. A king room would be preferred. It took him a minute to make us new keys, and then we were on our way upstairs.

Room

The front desk made no mention of upgrading us, but we ended up walking into a one bedroom king suite. This made me doubly glad I’d asked for a change of bed type!

DoubleTree Bend Oregon review

DoubleTree Bend Oregon One Bedroom Suite Pano

The room had a pseudo-“kitchenette” area (not a true kitchen) to the left as you walk in. The wet bar was extremely appreciated, though, as my wife and I routinely cook in hotel rooms.

It was open to the living area, with narrow bar area between, a nice design.

The living area was plenty big for two people and included a desk, television, and small couch and an armchair.

DoubleTree Bend Oregon review

It was plenty big for the two of us.

The bedroom was small, but it was nice that it was separate. I like being able to get up and turn on some lights while letting my wife sleep in.

The bathroom was clean and everything a 3-star hotel should have. There was no phone in the bathroom, a tell-tale sign of fanciness.

Overall, we were very pleased with the accommodations for our one night.

Facilities

After making dinner and relaxing for a while, my wife and I headed down to the pool area for a nice soak in the hot tub. The pool was fairly small, and there were very few people who used it while we were there, which surprised me. I figured the hotel was nearly full with the eclipse happening in two days.

The DoubleTree Bend also has a small exercise room. All of these facilities are located on the lowest floor.

Breakfast

Since I’d been matched to Diamond yet again for 2017, breakfast was included. Actually, it would have been anyway since I would have still had Hilton Gold status through my Amex Business Platinum card.

The breakfast was good, but nothing special. It was a buffet style, and cash price was only $9.99, which I consider reasonable for hotel breakfast. There were quite a few people there when I was eating, so I didn’t want to awkwardly take pictures with everyone trying to move around me. So I only got a photo of my plate.

DoubelTree Bend Oregon Breakfast

Mixed fruit, small omelets (with salsa and cheese), and tater tots for me. There were some muffin and bagel options, and a few other dishes. I’m calling it adequate, but sub-par for a DoubleTree. Honestly, I’ve only stayed at one other DoubleTree, though, so that is my only metric for comparison.

Exploring Bend

I explored Bend a bit in the morning while my wife slept in. The DoubleTree is in a very nice location in the middle of town, quite close to the river. I had a pleasant walk along the river before heading to a coffee shop for a while.

Later in the day my wife and I both took a stroll together. The riverside park area is quite nice, and the weather was fantastic (except for the smoke).

We finally had to check out at 1 p.m. I asked for later checkout than this, but the front desk was fairly firm that this was the best he could do. I couldn’t argue, knowing that he undoubtedly had a full house that night.

Conclusion

I’m definitely looking at this hotel if we ever pass through the area again. We were treated well by the staff, got a nice upgrade, and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. We’ll have to visit Bend again when there is no eclipse traffic and no smoke from numerous forest fires.

Centurion Lounge SFO Review

Back in 2016 I was the lucky winner of a MommyPoints giveaway, scoring a Centurion Lounge Pass. I used it, in combination with a United voucher from a voluntary bump, for a super quick overnight flying-for-the-heck-of it trip. The easiest location to visit was hands-down the Centurion Lounge SFO.

Little did I know that I’d be back to visit this particular lounge several times over 2017.

Accessing the Centurion Lounge SFO

To visit any Centurion Lounge, you must be an American Express cardholder. However, with most Amex cards, you’ll have to purchase a day pass to access the lounge, to the tune of $50. Day pass access is also not guaranteed, as the lounge is capacity-controlled. Considering that the Centurion Lounge SFO is often packed, you may have difficulty going the day pass route.

The other way to access the Centurion Lounge network is being either a Platinum or Centurion cardholder. Since a Centurion card is out of the question for most people, the best way to access the lounge is via either a Business Platinum card or one of the many flavors of the Personal Platinum card.

As I have a business incorporating a couple side gigs, I decided to pull the trigger on a Business Platinum card when the sign-up bonus was increased to 100,000 Membership Rewards points (SEE: 6 Best Amex Transfer Partners). The card carries a hefty $450 annual fee (personal version costs $550). But, it’s a write-off.

Arriving at the Centurion Lounge SFO

The Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International Airport is located in Terminal 3 near gate 74 . Since Terminal 3 is connected to International Terminal G via a post-security walkway, you can access the lounge from either of these terminals.

If you’re not flying United or one of the StarAlliance partners that uses International Terminal G, accessing the Centurion Lounge SFO will be a bit more of a headache. You’ll have to pass through security (probably explaining to the TSA agent that you are visiting a lounge) into Terminal 3, but will have to exit and go through security again into terminals 1, 2, or International A.

You really can’t miss the entrance to the Centurion Lounge SFO. The front is all glass, and you’ll see the stairs and elevator heading up to the floor above. The lounge itself overlooks part of Terminal 3 below, but you really don’t get any views of either the terminal or the tarmac, unless you sit right up next to the window. My favorite lounge view so far was (amazingly) at the McCarran United Club.

Seating at the Centurion Lounge SFO

There is a great variety of seating at the Centurion Lounge SFO. The lounge is essentially divided into two parts. Near the bar and food area there are a number of tables where many people tend to eat. I avoid this side of the lounge since it tends to get crowded.

There is a middle area across from the front desk. I’ve never found it to be an appealing place to sit, either. I guess it would be if you’re highly interested in the news. The coffee station is also located here.

Personally, I much prefer the other side of the lounge with it’s variety of seating. There are a couple couches, some armchairs, and some different booth-style seats for 1 or two people. If you’re trying to be productive, I’d pick the large table with a number of outlets to keep your laptop and other devices charged.

Centurion Lounge SFO Review

Today we picked one of the small wall couches along the far side of the lounge.

Family area

The Centurion Lounge SFO does feature a kids play room. Unfortunately, American Express has totally socked it to families in terms of lounge access, so we probably won’t be enjoying the kids room with our family. It would cost another $175 per year. We likely won’t be passing through SFO again anyway on this trip, but it’s a bit of a bummer of the future. This change might also might result in me dropping the card next year.

Centurion Lounge SFO family room

The kids area features toys, a TV, and seating for parents. I’d say it hits capacity at only two parents with a couple kids each, so it’s not all that big. But then again, there typically aren’t that many families with young children passing through the lounge at the same time. I only saw two with young kids during our three hours there.

Food at the Centurion Lounge SFO

While I haven’t visited all that many domestic lounges, the food at the Centurion Lounge SFO is far better than any of the other lounges I’ve visited. All of the United Clubs I’ve visited have had meager food offerings. But free is free (when you’re using a complimentary one time pass), so I’m not really complaining.

The food at the Centurion Lounge SFO, however, is great. Dinner often consists of chicken, pork belly, rice, and some other great dishes. I’ve been through here 3 or 4 times in the evening, and the food has typically been the same offerings.

Breakfast is good as well. Unlike other lounges that only offer light options like fruit, yogurt, and pastries, the Centurion Lounge SFO actually has a full breakfast. Today the selections included breakfast sandwiches, frittata, eggs, as well as fruit and pastries. It was a good start to the day, especially after having hardly eaten since we woke up at 3:00 a.m.

Centurion Lounge SFO food

There is a full bar at the Centurion Lounge SFO, and from what I understand, it’s a rather good one. They have a selection of wine, and plenty of other options. I’ve never sampled any of it, so I can’t really report on this aspect. 😉

Crowding at the Centurion Lounge SFO

The lounge has been typically crowded most of the times I’ve been here. Occupancy is usually highest in the evening, while this morning was relatively quiet. The longer we’re here, however, the more people arrive. Now the place is hopping at almost 10:00 a.m.

The worst experience was a night when there were numerous delayed United flights. The Centurion Lounge SFO was completely packed, and it was extremely hard for me to find a single seat. I had to wander for a while before someone finally got up and left. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, I might keep a couple United Club passes on hand (if you have the Explorer card) to see if any of those are better.

Other amenities

Like most lounges there are boards showing flight departures and a couple TVs showing the news . It’s also nice to have very clean bathrooms rather than the high-traffic ones in the terminal.

The Centurion Lounge SFO also offers free WiFi, of course. I find it very handy that the password has not changed the entire time I’ve been visiting, making it easy to just remember the network on my phone and type it in each time. While SFO offers free WiFi in the terminals, the internet speed at the Centurion is far better.

Conclusion

The Centurion Lounge SFO is a nice oasis if you’re flying in or out of the Bay frequently. While some people might not be able to justify the $450 annual fee for a Business Platinum card, if you travel enough, the other perks of the card could make it worth obtaining.

SFO map image and Business Platinum card image courtesy of American Express. 

Hyatt House Portland Review

Overall rating: 9/10

Location: Portland, Oregon

Last fall my wife and I met my in-laws for a few days in Portland. It was actually a surprise for my brother and father-in-law. Because of limited award availability from Arcata, I opted to arrive a day early (’cause who wants a 6:00 a.m. flight?). I picked the Hyatt House Portland for our one night.

I used 12,000 Hyatt points to cover the night. Cash price was $205, so we were getting 1.7 cents per point. This has since become my base valuation of Hyatt points. Others peg them at 1.4 or 1.5, but everything depends on location, season, day of the week, etc. The Hyatt House Portland often goes for as low as $130. Redeeming points wouldn’t be as lucrative at that price point.

One thing I noticed when booking was how few reviews the hotel had. This was because it opened only 3 months before we stayed.

Arriving at the Hyatt House Portland

I knew my in-laws were renting a car that could fit the 5 of us, so we used public transportation to reach the hotel. It is located just to the south of downtown, near the University.

Hyatt House Portland review - transit

Public transit to the hotel is easy. We had to make a single transfer from TriMet light rail (leaves from PDX airport) to a Portland Streetcar. There is a streetcar stop literally next to the hotel.

The other cool thing was that the hotel is kitty corner to the Marriott Residence Inn, at which we would be staying with my in-laws when they arrived. Super convenient.

Hyatt House Portland Review - from trolley stop

Hyatt House Portland from the trolley stop

Check in was easy. We didn’t receive an upgrade, but I didn’t really expect to as a lowly Hyatt Platinum. Anyhow, from what I knew of Hyatt House hotels in general, every room is an upgrade since they all have kitchens and are considered “suites”.

Hyatt House Portland studio kitchen suite

Our points got us a standard studio kitchen suite. You can also be booked into a den guest room. Luckily the suite was available for our dates.

Walking into the room, it was love at first sight. The suite had a full kitchen, sitting/living area, bed area, and large bathroom. Everything was new, clean, and modern.

Hyatt House Portland - Living Room

The kitchen was fully stocked. It contained a stove, cookware, flatware, dishes, and more. It even had a dishwasher. We felt spoiled. The stove was even the modern induction type, which is probably to make it easy to clean, more than anything.

Hyatt House Portland - Kitchen

The dining area was an island adjacent to the kitchenette.

Hyatt Hours Portland Review - Kitchen

The “bedroom” and living areas were cleverly designed. The TV was situated within an open section of the wall, at it would swivel, depending on whether you wanted to watch it from the couch or from the bed. I thought this was brilliant.

Hyatt House Portland - Bedroom

The bathroom was spacious and clean, and included a shower only, which I generally prefer. Everything was super new and clean, and it was plenty spacious.

Hyatt House Portland Review - Bathroom

The view was okay. The location of the Hyatt House doesn’t really make for good views in any direction. If you pressed your face against the glass, you could get a view of some of the taller buildings in downtown Portland.

Overall, we loved the room. Everything was new and modern, and the layout was wonderful.

Lobby and other facilities

The common area was clean and nice, if a bit clinical. The hotel could have done a better job breaking up the space. There was plenty of seating, but it was so orderly it began to remind me of a cafeteria. There weren’t any great places to sit and have a more private or quieter conversation.

Maybe this just stood out since I immediately contrasted the Hyatt House Portland with the Marriott Residence Inn we stayed at the following nights. The Residence Inn broke up their common space into smaller sections, allowing a bit more privacy and an overall better feel.

I also used the gym in the morning. There were enough machines and free weights to accommodate what most people would want in a work out. There is also a pool, but we didn’t use it.

Breakfast

I have to say, the Hyatt House Portland breakfast was one of the best free breakfasts I have had at a hotel. And its always free.

Hyatt House Portland Review - Breakfast

The best part was the made-to-order omelets. You pick a couple filling options, and a cook makes you an omelet in just minutes. There are also the typical continental breakfast options of bagels, muffins, yogurt, fruit, juice, and coffee. All of that was overshadowed by the omelet.

Location and getting around

While the Hyatt House Portland is not right in the middle of downtown, it is plenty close. And the trolley stop makes most places very accessible. You can be at the main food pod between Washington and Alder in 20 minutes or less.

Essentially, anything within the trolley or TriMet system is easily accessible. I won’t deny that a car made visiting several places much easier, including our trip to Multnomah Falls and attending a glass blowing class.

The riverfront is within easy walking distance, as is the aerial tram to the OHSU campus.

Issues with the final bill

Check out at the Hyatt House Portland was quick and easy. The desk staff put our “bill” in an envelope and sent us on our way. I don’t typically receive an final bill for an award stay, but some hotels seem to give it out anyway.

By the time I read it, we were on the streetcar, and it immediately puzzled me. The bill showed a room rate of $57 + tax. This made no sense. I knew there had to be a mistake.

We returned later and asked the manager what the issue was. He apologized and told me that I wasn’t supposed to receive that bill. It was a record of what they bill Hyatt corporate for our stay. It was no skin off my teeth since we had to return anyway (to the Residence Inn) and it actually gave me an interesting insight into how hotels are reimbursed for award stays.

Conclusion

Overall, we had a fantastic stay at the Hyatt House Portland. It still ranks as my favorite hotel brand. My wife was in heaven. Because she has some tummy problems that require a restricted diet, being able to easily and comfortably cook on vacation is extremely important to us. The Hyatt House gave us everything we needed.

Hyatt House Portland Review - Downtown View

My Hyatt House Portland Review takeaway: if we ever return to Portland, we will certainly be looking at this hotel again.

Hilton Florence Metropole: A Review

Location: Florence, Italy

Overall Rating: 9/10

I had some reservations when booking the Hilton Florence Metropole, mainly regarding the location. Unlike the SPG hotel options, the Hilton was a pretty good distance from the city center. I would have much rather booked the Westin Excelsior or St. Regis Florence, but the prices (both in cash and in points) were simply astronomical.

The Hilton Garden Inn was significantly closer, but still not fantastic, and the overall benefits at the Hilton Florence Metropole would be better with the Diamond status I had been matched to for the year. I finally settled on it as our best option, trusting that the views and amenities would make up for the poorer location. Plus, it would be free, except for the annoying city taxes.

We booked five nights to take advantage of the 5th night free benefit offered on Hilton award stays. The total came to 120,000 HHonors points. The same booking would have cost ~$600, so we were getting just 0.5 cents per point. Half a cent is the baseline at which I value a Hilton point, so I was fine with the redemption, but not ecstatic (you can often buy HHonors points for 0.5 cent).

Hilton Florence Metropole Exterior

Hilton Florence Metropole exterior

Kels and I arrived in Florence via bus and then train from San Marino. We left beautiful Monte Titano around 10:00 in the morning, and arrived at the Hilton Florence Metropole at about 4:30 in the afternoon. It was a decently long day of traveling, especially considering the two locations are less than 100 miles apart as the crow flies.

hilton_florence-waterfall

Waterfall (waterwall?) in the lobby

The lobby of the Hilton Florence Metropole is very large and of modern style. There was ample seating past the front desk and an indoor waterfall as you enter.

hilton_florence-lobby

Lobby seating

Check in was quick and painless. I had previously confirmed our room via the Hilton app, and no changes were made at check in. By the number (1001), I had suspected that we had been upgraded to a corner room, and this was indeed the case. The Hilton Diamond status match was finally paying off!

My wife and I headed up the elevator to the 10th floor. Luckily, we did not get the slightly awkward chaperone to our room as we had in both Cannes and Milan.

Hilton Florence Metropole Room View

Bed, with a view!

I was in love the instant I opened the door to the room. We were not only upgraded to a corner room, but to one with views of the Duomo and city center in the distance, surrounded by the hills of Tuscany! It was spectacular.

hilton_florence-desk_bed

Desk behind bed

After spending an undue amount of time admiring our view of Florence, I did notice the rest of the room. Everything was very nice, and of very modern style. The desk was glass, and it was uniquely placed directly behind the bed.

hilton_florence-desk

Desk

Next to the door was a little nook with the water kettle and glassware.

hilton_florence-coffee

Nook by the door

Like the Hyatt Regency Palais de la Mediterranee, the in room coffee consisted of instant Nescafe. Considering all the good coffee available, the hotels on this trip were failing the in-room coffee thing (except the Park Hyatt Milan).

hilton_florence-nescafe

Kettle, mugs, and in-room coffee

The bathroom was similarly very nice. It had both a shower and tub, and an interesting clear glass sink.

hilton_florence-shower

Shower and sink

Our only minor complaint was the shower. It was overly narrow. Due to the placement of the handle and shower head, both my wife and I tended to accidentally turn the water either down or off while showering. It wasn’t too much of an issue for us, but I can imagine it would be far more of a hassle for anyone substantially larger.

Overall, we were very pleased with the room. Housekeeping kept it wonderfully clean during our stay, even when we made a mess cooking.

hilton_florence-lounge

Lounge

Since both my wife and I had been matched to Hilton Diamond status via a promo at the beginning of 2016, we were granted executive lounge access during our stay, even though we weren’t on any of the 3 executive floors. I had previously been to a couple airport lounges, but this was my first time using a hotel lounge.

hilton_florence-lounge_food

Snacks and light dinner options in the lounge

The lounge at the Hilton Florence Metropole is on the top (15th) floor. It offers complimentary drinks, light bites at night, and a light breakfast in the morning. We ended up eating in the restaurant every morning, so I never actually saw what breakfast was like.

hilton_florence-lounge_outside

Outdoor seating area of the executive lounge

There were two outdoor seating areas, as well as the indoor tables and couches. The views from the 15th floor were spectacular; you had access to at least 270 degrees around the building. My favorite view was toward the Florence city center, the same direction that we had from our room.

Hilton Florence Metropole View from Lounge

Panorama of Florence, city center in the distance at center left

I worked from the lounge most of the evenings we were in Florence. It was a quiet space, there were ample power outlets, and I could snack as I wanted. Although many guests came and went, the lounge never really filled up any of the nights we were there.

hilton_florence-pool

Pool, and adjacent fitness facilities

On one of the evenings, my wife and I had a chance to enjoy the pool. It is quite small, but it had a very cool waterfall! And we had it to ourselves the entire time we were swimming.

 

Hilton Florence Metropole Pool Waterfall

Pool waterfall

Strangely, there were a few sunbeds. The pool is below ground level and there are no windows, so I wondered why anyone would want to come lay here for a while. Maybe you can tan from indigo mood lighting?

hilton_florence-pool_beds

Lounge chairs near the pool

The towels laid out and free bottled water were a plus, though.

Adjacent to the pool was the fitness center, which….I never used (vacation is about eating and seeing the sights, okay).

hilton_florence-breakfast

Buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant

Speaking of eating, we enjoyed breakfast in the restaurant each morning, complimentary of course as another Diamond perk. The spread included a wide variety of both European and more American breakfast choices. It was honestly the best hotel breakfast I have had.

Hilton Florence Metropole Restaurant Seating

Restaurant seating

As I mentioned at the start, the Hilton Florence Metropole is a pretty good distance from the center of Florence. The hotel does run a complimentary shuttle, but the schedule isn’t ideal. The pickup times are 60-90 minutes apart at either end, so you really have to settle on a plan ahead of time. Space is also issued on a first-come, first-serve basis. The morning runs into Florence were usually full. If the shuttle runs out of space, you are out of luck. Fortunately, we always managed to find a seat.

The shuttle drops you about a 5 minute walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station, at the Piazzale Montelungo. The Mercato Centrale is an 8-10 minute walk, the Duomo about 10-12, and the Palazzo Vecchio roughly 20. We did a ridiculous amount of walking over our three days seeing the city and every night returned to the hotel exhausted.

hilton_florence-bus_stop

The public bus stop just down the street from the Hilton. Route 78 goes to the tram.

If the shuttle isn’t cutting it, you can navigate the public transit system. I honestly preferred this option, and we took it more than half the time. The schedule is more regular, and there is a bus stop a few hundred feet from the hotel. You have to make one transfer between the #78 bus and the T1 tram, but it is fairly straightforward. You can tell which stop it is since the bus basically empties out.

florence_duomo-closeup

The Duomo

Florence has so much to see and do. We spent three long days seeing the art, the architecture, and enjoying the beauty of this Renaissance city.

mercato_centrale

The upper floor of the Mercato Centrale Firenze

Our highlights were the Duomo, the Galileo Muesum, the Mercato Centrale (wife’s absolute favorite!), and enjoying lunch in some of the small cafes. The Mercato Centrale consisted of a covered market on the bottom story, open most days during the moring, and then an upper, enclosed floor that had food vendors, a bar, and other specialty shops.

giant_steak-florence

The “steak for two” special. We did eat it all.

The most memorable was our Florentine “steak for two” at a cafe near the Duomo. The special on the sign said 1 kg, but I didn’t realize it would be a single giant steak!

cappucino

Cappuccino!

I also probably had like 17 cappuccinos over the course of a few days. I went from having never ordered one in my life to being completely addicted.

hilton_florence-lounge_sunset

Florence city center at sunset, viewed from the lounge terrace

Our entire stay in Florence was incredibly memorable. The city is full of art, history, and culture. Even after three days of museums, churches, and other sights (using our Firenze Cards), Kels and I both felt like we had barely scratched the surface of what the city had to offer.

If you ever have the wonderful opportunity to visit the birthplace of the Renaissance, I would highly recommend both the Hilton Florence Metropole, and a stay of at least 5 nights, if not a week.

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